As we have discussed before, angels on earth are Hashem’s interface to the natural world. And the angels in heaven are our connection to Hashem. We see this idea amplified on Yom Kippur and Sukkos.
S’chach must be from a plant, and the Midrash tells us that every blade of grass has its own angel, telling it to grow. So the s’chach we put over our heads represents the angels G-d makes to control the natural world.
The succah is, for the seven days of the festival, our house. And the roof of our house is made from grass or trees with their own angels – in other words, by the products of Hashem’s technology. S’chach only requires one manual step: we must disconnect it from the earth, bringing it to a higher madrega. It is a human act; the minimum interaction. Indeed, rabbonim hold that wood that is processed is not kosher for s’chach; we should not add too much human content. These angels are, to the maximum extent possible, made by Hashem, and they are Hashem’s contribution to our house. The angels are, in a manner, a house-warming present that the guest supplies his host.
But Sukkos does not stand alone. It is a holiday in which Hashem reciprocates for Yom Kippur. On Yom Kippur, the house-warming present is symbolized by the golden keruvim (the angels on top of the Aron) built by mankind, using the highest form of human technology known in the ancient world: the purification and shaping of metal. As we have said before, human technology is the human equivalent of angels – they are both ways to control and shape the natural world. The keruvim are one of mankind’s contributions to the House of G-d. We make the keruvim so that they form the buffer between man and Hashem. The keruvim, being representations of divine angels, are angels in heaven, the ones that praise G-d in our name, that plead our case before Him.
So on Yom Kippur, the Cohen Gadol enters Hashem’s holy home, complete with man-made angels. And five days later, Hashem reciprocates, by entering our outdoor homes, our Sukkahs, complete with angels crafted by Hashem. The reciprocity is complete.
But what is the mechanism, the connection between the two? Why is Yom Kippur a prerequisite for Sukkos?
For commentators such as Menachem Leibtag, Yom Kippur is not primarily a day of atonement, but a day during which our sins are “covered over” with a protective coating – for this is the biblical meaning of the root word “k-p-r”. And this coating is required for Sukkos, where the Shechinah is said to descend as closely to us in our Sukkahs as it did in the Beis Hamikdash. This explains why Sukkos is just a few days after Yom Kippur.
The Gemara is more explicit in the linkage between the Aron and Sukkos. The Gemara gives the Keruvim (the angels on top of the Aron) as a source that s’chach must cover an airspace ten tefachim high. The Keruvim resting on the kapores (the cover of the ark) stood ten tefachim high. The pasuk says that their wings were “sochechim” (providing “s’chach”) over the kapores. The s’chach is considered analogous to the wings of the angels over the kapores of the Aron itself.
“Kapparah”, of course, is given by Hashem to Israel on Yom Kippur, the one day in which the Cohen Gadol goes into the kodesh hakedoshim (holy of holies) in the Beis Hamikash. As a result of Yom Kippur, we enter Sukkos capable of coming close to Hashem’s Shechinah.
But the critical role of the angels remains for both the Beis Hamikdosh and our Sukkos; the angels are an interface between man and G-d. The angels in heaven are created by ourselves, as a result of our words and deeds: they plead our case, they echo us in our praise of Hashem, they crown Hashem during kedusha. The angels on earth are created by Hashem: they run the natural world, and are the buffer, the tzimtzum, between man and G-d.
Yom Kippur is the day when the Cohen Gadol enters into the private chamber of the Shechinah, where the wings of the keruvim protect the aron (representing Torah as the etz chaim, the tree of life). His primary goal is to achieve the protection for the nation, the kapparah. When the Cohen Gadol has done his service, the result is as if the lid of the Aron is over each of us, allowing us to get closer to the Divine Presence than at any other time of year. But we still need the angels, the final buffer of the angels’ wings, the s’chach in our Sukkah.